Chamonix: French Alps

Thursday, March 14.

Missing the extensive Michigan weather (ha, not) I wanted to see snow again while abroad. A recommendation from a friend sparked the idea of visiting Chamonix for a weekend, and thus I journeyed to France for the third time this semester.

Julia’s best friend Kylie was visiting this week for her spring break, and the four of us flew to Geneva to catch a bus to the tiny town in the Alps. We arrived pretty late in Chamonix on Thursday and just crashed in our quaint airbnb.

Day 1

Waking up to views of mountains made me immediately feel like home. Although Michigan lacks in the towering mountain category, there are plenty of adorable ski resorts/town to be explored, and Chamonix embodied everything I love about ski culture.

We bundled up against the foggy cold and headed out for the day, enjoying getting a little lost within the side streets.

The town itself is gorgeous: nestled among the Alps, Chamonix attracts serious hikers, skiers, and mountain junkies, and the buildings reflect this strong connection to the slopes.

After walking a bit, we escaped the cold and settled in for some espresso shots, waffles, and chantilly before exploring more.

I truly loved everything about the village, it had a sleepy but exciting atmosphere that reminded me of the resorts I spent my winters at.

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We had planned on visiting the Mer De Glace (famous glacier), but the high risk of avalanches had shut down any trains into the mountains.

We found a ski hill within walking distance of the closed station, and all agreed that trying our luck on skis would be much more fun than seeing a block of ice.

The rentals and tickets were surprisingly inexpensive and soon we all donned matching pants, jackets, and boots.

I endearingly called our little group “Claire’s Ski School,” with very good reason.

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I sorely overestimated my friends ability to ski, but that only made the day that much more fun. I spent the hours lifting them off the hill from countless falls, strapping ski boots on/clicking them out, and shouting instructions to brake harder or to engage edges (which none of them understood).

I absolutely loved being back in my element and having the capability to coach my friends and actually see them improve. Allison went from being unable to stand without me holding her to cruising down the bunny hill in complete control. I dragged Julia down a bigger hill and she handled it (more or less) like a pro, just with a little more screaming.

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I had the opportunity to take on the mountain by myself, and although it was amazing, I had more fun helping my friends learn the difference between pizza and french fries on the bunny hill.

I’m so proud at how they all improved and took on the scary challenge of strapping on skis, and despite the exponential amount of crashes (sometimes into me) we all had giant grins the whole time.

Sore (embarrassingly so) and satisfied, we de-booted and walked easier on the way to lunch. We spent the whole time looking back on pictures and videos and laughing tears about all our performances.

This was probably one of my favorite memories so far from being abroad.

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Day 2

The sadness of waking up to thick fog quickly disappeared as the sun came shinning out. If possible, Chamonix was even more gorgeous in the light. The town didn’t seem real: stuck somewhere between a snow-globe and Disney’s Expedition Everest ride.

We grabbed tickets for the Aiguille Du Midi up to Mont Blanc and then wandered around the beautiful town.

We waited for our slot in the bright sun at an outdoor table at our favorite restaurant, Elevation 1904. The sun was strong despite the chilly weather, and we quickly shed our layers and grabbed a cold drink.

After soaking up some sun, we boarded the cable car up to the top of the highest point in Western Europe. The car scaled vertically up the mountain, giving panoramic views of Chamonix nestled within the Alps as we climbed.

The environment at 15,000 ft is something other-worldly. The air is so crisp and clean its almost hard to breath, ice covers every surface, and you get this overarching feeling like you don’t belong in there, like you couldn’t survive.

Which you couldn’t.

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However, getting past the terrifying winds and swaying of the station over the cliffside, the views were absolutely spectacular. The French and Swiss Alps spread out underneath us as far as the eye could see: we were miles above the highest ski resort.

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Some brave souls carried skis on their back as they headed to the entrance of the mountain, beginning their long and terrifying descent.

Even as an experienced skier, Mont Blanc is an impossible challenge, and I applaud anyone who’s conquered it.

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We took our thrills in smaller doses: embracing the shaky feeling that came with just peering over the edge.

After a while, frostbite started to creep in (being 15 degrees colder than the base) and we had to retreat back down.

We simply couldn’t leave the mountainous village without trying some of the famous fondue. We hunted the small streets for the perfect stop for dinner, settling on a heated outdoor patio underneath sparkling lights.

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The fondue and ambiance didn’t disappoint, and we all strolled back to our airbnb filled with warmth and melted cheese.

Day 3

We bundled up for the airport at 6 am and met our bus for the drive back into Geneva. Even the airport there is surrounded by mountains and the views outside the over priced cafes were something to write home about.

Overall, this weekend solidified my dream to live in a ski town (or maybe have a second home in one, depending on how my career pans out). I simply love the atmosphere, the people, and the culture after of a long day on the slopes.

Chamonix is somewhere I’ll come back to, maybe with some better skiers next time (Kidding!) (or am I).

 

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